It may have taken a bus, a train, and a cab ride to get there, but nothing was going to prevent me from attending a lecture by renowned author and peace activist Amos Oz in Hod Hasharon, a nearby suburb of Tel Aviv. Held in a modest cultural center in the middle of town, in a relatively small space complete with plastic chairs, I was struck by the overabundance of older faces in the crowd. Whether this represents a dying liberal strain among young Israelis, or simply the fact that people my age had other, more exciting things to do on a Thursday night, was unclear. Without trying to sound sycophantic in any way (and, I imagine, probably failing miserably), attempting to encapsulate Oz’s many accomplishments in a few sentences in a blog post would do him a great disservice.
|The famous author dispensing pearls of wisdom|
What I’ve always admired most about Oz is the ease with which he wears his Israeli patriotism, yet a patriotism that demands a humanistic, liberal worldview. Oz has always been unapologetic about his embrace of Jewish self-determination, but in the same breath he’s been just as adamant that those same rights be applied to the Palestinians. And in a conflict which often infuriatingly demands allegiance to one side or the other, his views are always gray, always nuanced. In short, he is the ultimate pragmatist. His lecture ran the gamut from the peace process to the state of the arts in Israel today, and contained so many pearls of wisdom, it’s impossible to pick which one was best. As such, I think that it’s best to present his thoughts in bullet-point form:
- On the discussion of one or two states: “Other things are important, but this is a matter of life and death. If there are not two states, and soon, there will be one state, and if there is one state, then I fear for the future of our children and grandchildren…No multinational states have been successful, not Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union…the only other option would be a Jewish dictatorship”.
- On the right’s hawkishness: “Do you want to know what ‘conflict management’ looks like? In the future, it will look like last summer’s war, over and over and over again…we won’t win the upcoming wars, even with the most cutting-edge technology”.
- On the Yom Kippur War: “We haven’t won a war since 1967, and Yom Kippur doesn’t count. Why? Because Sadat’s goal was to change the status quo, and he succeeded! I’m not a pacifist, but military might can only prevent things–disaster, massacres, etc.–but it will never achieve anything!”
- On the Arab Peace Initiative: “Today, the Arab world has a much more threatening enemy than us in the form of radical Islam. The API should act as the basis for a deal with the Arab League, with amendments of course…We should have accepted it as a basis for talks 12 years ago”.
- On the sacredness of land in the conflict: “No one has rights to the land but we and the Palestinians both have claims…we didn’t ‘liberate’ land in 1967, we conquered it…If I see a beautiful woman walking down the street, I cannot simply take her for myself, I must ask permission.”
- On the recent conflagration on the Temple Mount: “These people are leading us into a war with the entire Muslim world. We battled the entire world before and things ended very badly for us…when, in the past, we fought against Babylonia and Rome, those in opposition to such an endeavor were also called ‘traitors’…I know that the Temple Mount is very important to the Jewish people, but it’s not worth the spilling of even one man’s blood”.
- On the Palestinians: “We imagined that when we returned to this land, the Romans would be here and we would kick them out and take back what was ours. Unfortunately, what we discovered instead was a group of people already living here who had done nothing to us”.
- On leaving the territories: “Many Israelis who have no connection to the territories are nonetheless reluctant to give them up because they don’t want us to be seen as ‘friers‘ [Hebrew/Yiddish word for ‘suckers’]. They believe that the moment we pull out, rockets will fall on Tel Aviv, Ben-Gurion airport, Kfar Saba…These people’s fears can’t be ignored. What would I tell them? ‘I can’t promise that we won’t have problems, but if we STAY, then we are finished here’ “.
- On our relations with the US: “Ben-Gurion understood from the inception of the state that Israel required excellent relations with at least one superpower”.
- On Europe: “Once upon a time, one could go to Europe, mention you were from Israel, and they would roll out the red carpet; but nowadays Europeans are having trouble reconciling their support for Israel with support for settlement building. Sanctions are creeping up on us, and they day is not far off when baggage handlers in Amsterdam and Paris will refuse to service El Al planes.”
- On elections: “If everyone in this room goes out and convinces one person that they know is indifferent about voting to change their mind, then we will see a center-left in power”.
- On the tension between “Jewish and Democratic”: “I do not see tension between these ideas, but what is not possible is a ‘Jewish state’; what is possible is a ‘state of the Jews’ which is a manifestation of our right to self-determination”.
- On the Zionist Camp’s election strategy: “Labor’s name change is unnecessary…In any case, the far-right by its embrace of a theocracy is anti-Zionist…Livni and Herzog are on the defensive, and right now they’re trying to present themselves as ‘Likud, but without the bottles’ “.
- On Israeli culture: “We’re experiencing a Golden Age of culture here in Israel, in the fields of literature, television, theater, music, dance, art, cinema…All this despite the actions of the government”.
And in response to some questions from the audience:
- On instability in the Middle East: “Unfortunately, we don’t live in a Bergman film, but one by Fellini”.
- On dealing with ISIS: “You cannot destroy an ideas with bombs…The entire world should be embracing Tunisia right now for the example that it sets for the region”.
- On giving back the Golan: “When we didn’t have the Golan, we conquered it within 48 hours; and when we did have it, the Syrians almost reconquered it pretty quickly. A territory doesn’t protect a nation, but a nation protects territory”.
There are numerous other points that I was forced to leave out due to constraints of time and space. In comparison to the other events that I’ve attended since arriving here a few weeks ago, I left this one feeling particularly edified, and for a change, uplifted. And if that sounds sycophantic, well then, frankly I just don’t care. My one regret: I didn’t have the opportunity to take a picture with Oz, as he was already swarmed by a group of other adoring fans. A shame, as I had a witty and self-deprecating caption to go along with it.